North Korea’s 2009 nuclear test: A geospatial roundup

On May 25, 2009, North Korea performed a second underground test of a nuclear explosive. The first test had taken place on October 9, 2006, and resulted in several KML files pinpointing the suspected location of the test. What follows is round-up of the public geospatial intelligence gathered this time around. Where relevant, I’ve collected the information into this KMZ file. All content is attributed to its original sources.



The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-test-ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has posted the results of its remote sensing analysis regarding where precisely the test was conducted. In addition to its best guess for 2006 (the “2006 Reviewed Event Bulletin” (REB) ellipse), we are also given the first and second automated guesses (SEL1 and SEL2) as well as the organization’s latest best guess (the red “2009 REB Event” ellipse). The CTBTO is confident the 2009 test was conducted somewhere inside the red ellipse.

Unfortunately, the ellipses aren’t available as KML, so I’ve overlaid the JPG of the CTBTO’s conclusions on Google Earth. (As you zoom in, be sure to turn off this layer if you want to see the region at the highest possible resolution.)

IMINT & Analysis

Over on IMINT & Analysis, Sean O’Connor has a long and detailed post looking at the imagery in the region, wherein he identifies two additional potential specific sites at which the test may have been conducted in addition to the northernmost site, which is usually the one mooted as the most likely candidate.

Sean hasn’t put these placemarks online (as far as I can tell), so I’ve annotated the three sites in the KMZ file.


The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published a PDF report on May 27 that contains a satellite image of the likely test site taken on May 14, 2009, just 11 days before the test itself.

The above KMZ file contains the image in the PDF, overlaid on top of the base imagery in Google Earth, which was taken on February 15, 2005. An additional overlay of the same location, commissioned by and taken a few days after the 2006 test, is added to the file. (I found it in the exhaustive (and now well-known) KMZ layer by North Korea Uncovered.)

Finally, for reference, I added POIs of the region annotated by in 2006, based on a New York Times article of July 25, 2005 that cited US intelligence and brought the area to the wider public’s attention for the first time.

When living in Africa or Europe or the Americas, what North Korea does can at times look bizarre but distant and abstract. Now that I live in Shanghai, a mere 800km away, the implications are a lot more tangible, and it appears that this time around, China’s leadership too has been shaken out of its complacency. To be continued, of course.

4 thoughts on “North Korea’s 2009 nuclear test: A geospatial roundup”

  1. Except for the fact that the DPRK itself announced it. The can’t be so lucky to keep on having earthquakes of the right size at the right time.

  2. Thanks for this information. I have added it to the latest version of my North Korea overlay by manually tracing out the rings from the image you provided.



Comments are closed.